In the age of e-commerce and tech’s disruption of retail, there has been no group more maligned than the “middleman” — in the floral industry, that title falls to the wholesaler.
I’ll admit, before I really understood the floral supply chain, it was all too easy for me to demonize the wholesaler “middleman” and his mark-up as the bane of efficiency and fair pricing for the end customer. It was easy, that is, until I spent time with some of the most dedicated, professional people I’ve worked with: flower buyers.
The best wholesalers are skilled merchants, who maintain a rolodex of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of farms, and know how to import so-violet-they’re-almost-black calla lilies in less than 24 hours, when seeded eucalyptus is out of season (and where to find an alternative), and who take financial risks in the form of inventory to make sure floral designers have what they need, when they need it. This set of expertise is developed through decades of experience, and is an entirely separate job from the work of floral design. I respect this work, and don’t see a world in which I wouldn’t support it.
So yes, we buy from select wholesalers, because they provide unique value to us in the form of deep expertise, invaluable cold chain handling (meaning our customers only get the best quality product), and on-demand product.
We also buy directly from farms. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit a variety of farms in the countries where 70% of the flowers sold in the US are grown: Colombia and Ecuador. Thanks to inspired high school spanish teachers, great college professors and 1.5 years living in Spain, I speak Spanish well enough to do business and develop relationships with growers and agronomists in these countries.
The value of sourcing directly from farms is clear-cut: I can personally verify that the farms are living up to their Rainforest Alliance certification, and even visit projects funded by their Fair Trade programs. I don’t have to take someone else’s word for the quality of the farm’s stems -- I can see it for myself, at the source.
By developing deep, mutually beneficial relationships with key wholesalers, and sourcing directly from farms, I’m able to get the best pricing in the market, and I pass those savings on to our customers.
Poppy customers care about where their flowers come from, and they care about the people behind their bouquets. I’m proud to be able to send business to some of the best flower farms on earth, and to collaborate with open-minded, savvy wholesalers who are just as much a part of our team as our full-time employees.
While “cut out the middleman!” would be a simpler message for us to communicate, it’s just not an honest reflection of the complexity and nuance in the international floral supply chain. I’m a flower supply chain nerd and could talk to you all day about the two months a year to get peonies from Chile, or how one of our Rainforest Alliance-certified partners using bio-dynamic pest control to combat spider mites.
If you want to learn more about how we work with farms, check out our Instagram story Highlights, where we’ve posted real footage from visit to our partner farms.
— Cameron Hardesty, CEO & Founder of Poppy